Fall Behind, Pay the Price: Remediation Rate Story

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Special Education Report

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High school graduates not prepared for college are a stubborn problem in Alabama.

You can learn about that education challenge by exploring the interactive map and in the stories that follow.

This is an interactive map. Check your community, school.

The 2014 Alabama high school graduates who arrived at state public colleges last fall often faced unhappy news. One in three found themselves unprepared for college math or English classes, according to data from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE).

They started their college careers behind, required to take remedial courses, an experience that national studies say puts them at risk of not completing their degrees.

Remediation is a costly pursuit, as more than 10,000 remedial courses were taken by Alabama’s high school graduates in colleges last fall, costing nearly $10 million.

Remedial classes cost the same as other college courses, but they do not count toward a student’s degree. Students face paying for these classes first, and passing them, before they can pay for and take math and English courses that count toward a degree.

Remedial coursework also means taxpayers pay twice: once for students to take courses in high school and then again for students to relearn that material in college.

Remediation rates haven’t budged since the state department of education began measuring them for Plan 2020, the strategic plan for K-12 public education. The state target for the overall remediation rate for 2014 was 23%, but the actual rate was 32.1%, up slightly from 31.8% from 2013.

State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice has said repeatedly that it’s difficult to prepare students for college when Alabama’s public colleges all have different definitions of readiness.

Bice is working toward a common definition of college-readiness, starting with the two-year colleges, as the remediation rate for two-year community college students in Alabama is three times that of four-year college students.

What should concern students and their families even more than cost is what research shows outcomes are for students placed in remedial classes: They are less likely to complete their degrees, particularly those in two-year community colleges.

According to the Community College Research Center, less than 25% of students who are placed into remedial education in community college earn a degree within eight years.

Complete College America, a national nonprofit group working with states to enact reforms to ensure more students earn a degree, calls remedial classes the “Bermuda Triangle of higher education,” adding “most students get lost and few will be seen on graduation day.”

Their research shows that nationwide, only 35 % of students placed in remedial classes earn a four-year degree in six years, whereas 56% of all students earn a degree in the same time.

So how well are *central Alabama’s high schools preparing students for college math and English? ( *Jefferson and Shelby counties, plus nearby Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chilton, Coosa, Cullman, Etowah, St. Clair, Talledega, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties.)

While rates across Alabama can be compared with each other, doing so nationally presents problems because states can measure rates differently. So we’ll look at a couple of different national rates.

The overall remediation rate for central Alabama students is 37.1 %. The overall rate is 32.1 % for the state; the rate nationally is 20%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Of central Alabama students enrolled in state four-year colleges, 18% needed remedial courses. Across Alabama, that rate was 16%. Nationally, the rate is 15% to 25%, according to NCES. In this category – students going to four-year colleges — Alabama students seemed as well prepared as others.

However, more than one-half, 53%, of central Alabama students heading to public two-year colleges needed remediation. The state rate was 47 %. NCES’s national rate is 26%. There is disagreement about the national rate, though. Complete College America reports it to be between 50% and 56%.

Regardless of which rates are used to compare, there is across-the-board agreement that work needs to be done to improve college-readiness for Alabama’s high school graduates.

Before we look at the map, a note on what the data does and doesn’t tell us. These remediation rates only reflect Alabama public high school students who graduated in spring of 2014 and enrolled in an Alabama public two- or four-year college in the fall of 2014. No state data exists for students who enroll in private or out-of-state colleges.

The class of 2015 numbers will be available in February 2016.

Today’s Special Report is the first of a series, Numbers That Matter, on Alabama education. The project is a partnership between BirminghamWatch and Alabama School Connection. Trisha Powell Crain is reporting. Read about her here. 

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